I read a rather appalling/heart-warming post yesterday that was essentially about a particular type of ad hominem attack: calling someone “fat”. Apparently there are a number of smart people out there, with smart opinions, who area also arguably overweight. And rather than fighting back against the ideas and opinions of these people, some of their opponents just scream that the smart people are fatty fatty fat fats, and therefore their opinions don’t matter.
Now this debate “tactic” is used all the time, attack the messenger, not the message. Women seem to get the worst of it, presumably because of actual American attitudes about who is good enough, who is “one of us”, and who doesn’t deserve to be heard. The “shut up, you’re fat” attacks, seem to be based on deep held stereotypes that overweight people are lazy, gluttonous, weak-willed, and a host of negative traits that go with that. People also seem to enjoy sitting in judgment on heavy people, acting as though there’s some sort of moral high ground to be had.
I think I found a very good rebuttal to these sorts of attacks in the political realm. You make your argument, someone yells “oh yeah? Well you’re a fat pig.” Then you say:
You know who wasn’t fat?
(In fact, I think that most dictators, mass murderers and serial killers were of a healthy weight…)
The websites where I’ve seen this issue discussed then often turn into a debate over two accurate yet contradictory things:
1) being overweight is often a product of an unhealthy Western diet, and can lead to serious health problems
2) our culture has extremely skewed ideas of what constitutes “fat” and “thin”, and often shames people who don’t fit these unrealistic body types
This can end up turning into an unproductive fight of “it’s okay to be fat” vs. “no it’s not!”, and a variety of similar themes. But these really are two different things. Western lifestyles– including diet, work patterns, transportation, marketing, medicine, industry, science, and culture– have devolved to the point where our practices often cause our health great harm, even when we don’t intend to. Aside from that, our society also places great importance on physical appearance, and our criteria for judging attractiveness is largely shaped by mass media, who have their own goals and agendas. Obviously, the societal traits that cause weight-related disease should be fixed, and fast. And the ignorance we endure psychological damage we do to each other based on bizarre beliefs and stereotypes based on a person’s outward appearance also needs some serious work.
But really, I wrote most of this so I could tell that Hitler joke.
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